PYONGYANG, March 16, 2016 – A University of Virginia student has been sentenced by North Korea’s Supreme Court to more than 15 years of hard labor. Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old U.Va. undergraduate hailing from Wyoming, Ohio, was arrested in January for allegedly “perpetrating a hostile act” against the regime.
Warmbier was convicted and sentenced Wednesday in a one-hour trial. Prior to the court date, he made a media appearance in North Korea weeks before his trial, where he apologized for stealing a banner from a staff-only area of the hotel where he was staying.
Warmbier was arrested while visiting the country with Young Pioneer Tours, an agency specializing in travel to North Korea. The State Department warns against travel to the North. North Korea said he traveled to the country as a tourist but with the real aim of destroying the unity of North Korea with “the tacit connivance of the U.S. government.”
Appearing to read from a statement, he said:
“I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel. I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country. I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!”
The North Korean government alleges Warmbier was encouraged to commit the “hostile act” by a purported member of an Ohio church, a secretive university organization and even the CIA. The tour company he traveled with said on its website it is aware of his sentencing and that it should “be viewed in similar context of previous cases of Americans being sentenced in the DPRK.”
Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller are the most recent American detainees who released by North Korea. Both were accused of perpetrating “hostile acts” against North Korea. Miller spent less than a year in custody after being sentenced to six years’ hard labor. Bae, facing a 15-year sentence, was held for nearly two years.
On Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered tests of a nuclear warhead in the “nearest future,” state-run news agency KCNA said. The order came after the U.N. Security Council imposed tough sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear test in January and its satellite launch the following month.